Former county commissioner Lee Hearn may have been fired at the current board of commissioners with a scattergun approach but in his rebuttal, county administrator Steve Rapson refined his comments to answer each accusation with pinpoint clarity.
Rapson pointed out that the defined benefit plan changes had no effect on current public safety employees, but it did change things for future employees.
“The defined benefit plan has absolutely no impact on public service employees - they can still retire at 55 with 25 years of service,” he said. “We changed a lot of things but that wasn’t one of them - nor do we intend to with regards to public service employees.”
Tied with that, he noted, was the employee retirement plan, wherein the county used to have an option to pay for the employee only if they retire early to get them from age 55 to the retirement age of 65.
“We were not going to touch that at all, but there was a cash option and there are 416 employees eligible for that benefit. If they all seek that benefit it’s $2.2 million,” he said. “It’s not that I’m opposed to that benefit. It’s a great benefit. It’s just something Fayette County cannot afford to do.”
Additionally, said Rapson, when the count modified the health plan, they also opened up the health plan to those employees, who could then get the same rate as the county gets. That’s an option they didn’t have before.
“The second thing we did was to initiate an House Savings Account (HSA) they could elect not to be insurance plan and we provided them the ability to, in essence, fund the HSA. That allows them the ability to build up a cash reserve to use,” said Rapson. “The best part of that is that it’s walkable. If you leave the county, you can take it with you.”
Rapson also noted that the county’s defined benefit plan was overfunded by $9.2 million, based on the last actuarial study.
“One of the charges this board gave me was to kill the defined benefit plan,” he said. “Instead of killing it, we decided no to fund one year of it. It was already overfunded. We can’t skim those funds, those funds are held in trust for those employees. What we can do is elect not fund it. Based on the actuarial study, we were not required to make a payment this year, so we didn’t.
One of Rapson’s hot buttons in responding to the complaints of both Hearn and former county employee Emory McHugh, who ousted from the last meeting when he refused to stop calling commissioners and staffers a variety of unflattering names- was the discussion about the county’s Local Option Sales Tax(LOST) breakdown.
“Why do we keep talking about the LOST. There was a study done, that showed the county was eligible to receive over 57.24 percent. That’s the study we had done on the county side. Of course the cities had their own study done and theirs was 58 percent. Ultimately, if we don’t reach a decision, a compromise, than a judge is going to decide how we do that.”
Rapson said he wasn’t arguing there was a $19 million difference between the 48.5 percent the county ultimately settled on and the 57.24 percent.
“What I dispute is this previous administration, Lee Hearn included, was the only position they took was the LOST was going to be negotiated by their starting place was 50 percent. So when the county hired me in January, I negotiated 50 percent to 48.5 percent. If you run the numbers, it means that instead getting a three percent increase in LOST, we got it to 2.5 percent. From a dollar perspective, there literally is no financial impact.
“The point I would make is that if there was $19 million ‘given away,’ I’ll lay $17 million at Lee Hearn’s feet and I’ll take credit for the 2.5. I think everybody misses the point that these cities were hurting. One of the charges I had was to sit down with chairman and negotiate and while we were firm in our 48.5 percent, there was a lot of horse trading going on in the cities in actual allocations. The important thing, I think, is that we acknowledge the fact that all those cities are in Fayette County. When we start talking about how we’re penalizing those cities, it’s all Fayette County- what’s good for those cities is good for Fayette County.”